Ross surveys the 2012 Republican field and finds it wanting:
No one doubts Romney’s intelligence or competence, but he has managed to run for president for almost five years without taking a single courageous or even remotely interesting position.
Then again, the reason that he has not taken “a single courageous or even remotely interesting position” over all these years is that he has been a presidential candidate desperately seeking the approval of his party’s base. It doesn’t say much for Romney that he opted to take on an entirely political persona in order to do this, but he understood that it was the only way for him to pursue the party’s nomination with any hope of success. I don’t think anyone would expect Romney to take a courageous stand on anything, but viewed another way this is proof of his ability to adapt quickly to changing political circumstances. The argument for Romney that several people have put to me over the years is that he is so flexible and reactive that there is much less danger that he would continue pointless wars indefinitely or plow ahead with politically toxic policies. I don’t really believe this, but I can see why Romney’s lack of core convictions is weirdly reassuring for some people after the last decade.
In any case, primary electorates don’t reward candidates for being courageous or interesting, especially when these things are normally defined in terms of breaking with party orthodoxies. If they did, they wouldn’t be partisan primary electorates. If taking bold and interesting positions weren’t politically self-destructive, Gary Johnson might be a serious contender this year. It might not seem like it, but Ross’ criticism of Romney’s dullness and lack of imagination suggests that Romney has succeeded in making himself into a boringly conventional center-right conservative politician. His goal has always been to make himself suitably inoffensive to enough primary voters to win the nomination, and he may have succeeded in this.
Ross goes on to suggest that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should enter the 2012 race. Unlike many writers dissatisfied with the current group of candidates, Ross doesn’t overlook Christie’s political weaknesses:
Of course Christie has obvious weaknesses: the brevity of his gubernatorial experience, the fact that he’s more moderate than his party’s base, the fact that it’s been a hundred years since America elected a president with his avoirdupois.
Essentially, he has less executive experience than Romney or Perry, and he has a large “cheering section” among movement conservatives mostly because these people are always looking for a better alternative candidate to replace the ones they already have. Once he became a candidate, most of the cheering would die down quickly. If he were to run, Christie would effectively be running to Romney’s left, which is hardly a winning strategy. The best argument for a Christie campaign is that he is currently enjoying some success as governor, but this is why Christie should stay where he is at least through the end of his first term.
When Sarah Palin quit halfway through her first term, the common (and ultimately correct) reaction was that her political career was finished. If Christie were to do the same, it would not propel him to the nomination or the White House, but it would take him away from his state when he appears to be making some headway. One of the reasons why the 2012 field is so uninspiring is that the GOP has promoted its most successful governors too rapidly and has not been winning enough gubernatorial elections to create a large pool of candidates from which to draw. Another problem is that relatively few people outside New Jersey know who he is. The case for a Christie bid is not very strong, and I continue to marvel that his name keeps coming up in discussions of the presidential election.